College baseball’s No. 1 ranked Diamond Hogs (1-0) began their quest to return to the College World Series for the eighth time this afternoon with a thorough 9-1 pounding of the Western Illinois Leathernecks (0-1) at Baum Stadium.
The Razorbacks’ starters for the first game of the season were:
Matt Vinson, LF
Jacob Morris, CF
Tyler Spoon, RF
Eric Fisher, 1B
Brian Anderson, 3B
Willie Schwanke, DH
Jake Wise, C
Jacob Mahan, 2B
Brett McAfee, SS
Ryne Stanek, P
Throughout the afternoon, the Hogs’ pitching returned to the low ERA performances that marked 2012 success on the mound. Ace Ryne Stanek started and picked up the win with 4 innings of work, allowing 2 hits and Western Illinois’ only run over 66 pitches. He stuck out 4 and walked 1. In the fifth, newcomer Trey Killian, a 6’2” right-handed freshman from Mountain Home, Arkansas, took over for Stanek and retired 9 straight batters with 1 strike out on 44 pitches before Razorback senior letterman Tyler Wright finished out the last two innings for the Hogs. Overall Hog pitching allowed 1 run, 3 hits and walked 2 batters.
The Omahogs’ bats were just as impressive. Fisher, Anderson, and Mahan had 2 hits each, but it was Fisher who made the most of his efforts. Eric batted in 2 runs in the first and homered in the third. Overall, the offense produced 9 runs on 32 at bats and 11 hits. Leatherneck pitching helped too, walking 12 Arkansas batters. The Hogs started off right with 2 runs in the first inning but demoralized Western Illinois in the third with 5 runs and retired the Leathernecks’ starting pitcher with 7 earned runs over 88 pitches.
After the game, Dave Van Horn commented, “Obviously, I think we played really well the first day out with temperatures the way they were [around 40 degrees and windy.] We fielded the ball really well. I thought our offense did a great job a couple or three innings early in the game fouling off a lot of pitches and making their guy work. He had pretty good stuff but we got his pitch count up. We knew he was going to be pretty good. He’d beaten Georgia last year and pitched pretty well especially early in the season and kinda had been a tough pitcher down the stretch is what we were told, but I think after three innings we already had him at 60-70 pitches and finally put him away with that big five-run inning.”
Van Horn explained that before the game, the Hogs’ junior Dominic Ficociello re-aggravated a rib muscle fielding a ball. Originally Ficociello suffered the strain about 10 days ago in batting practice, and Van Horn said, “I don’t know when he’ll play” and explained that it definitely wouldn’t be this weekend but could be next weekend depending on how Dominic feels. Before the game Dominic took batting practice left and right and “looked good” before aggravating his injury.
With Fic on the bench, Van Horn batted Eric Fisher in the clean-up spot. After two walks and a sac bunt in the first, Fisher came up to the plate and did what he was supposed to do by getting a hit that scored the Razorbacks’ first two runs of the season. Later, Fisher lead off the devastating third inning for the Hogs when he homered off a fast ball on a 1-1 count.
Despite decent numbers, Coach Van Horn said that Stanek wasn’t at his best today. Ryne threw a lot of pitches early and got behind in the count. “He threw just good enough” but Van Horn also pointed out that Stanek has a history of slow starts at the beginning of the season.
On Stanek’s replacement today, Van Horn was complimentary. “It was great to see Killian come in and really fill up zone with the fast ball. He was spotting it. Threw a couple of nice breaking balls so it was good to get some guys some experience.”
Van Horn said that outfielder Joe Serrano, one of the Razorbacks’ better hitters, joined Ficociello on the bench with “arm problems” and that he believes that Serrano is “starting to get better and he’ll be in the lineup the next day or two.”
Overall, Coach Van Horn was pleased with how the Hog batters forced 6-7 pitches at the plate and took their walks. It reflected what he’d seen over the last couple of weeks of practice.
After the game Eric Fisher said, “It was good to be back out there. It’s amazing how fast the red shirt year flew by….and being able to produce when there’s guys in scoring position and to get that ball that I got to take out over the fence.” About batting clean up Fisher downplayed his approach. “Batting in the four hole is a big spot. I just made sure not to put extra pressure on myself or really overlook it and just made sure that when I went to the plate to just relax and do my job.” On his home run, Fisher described the ball was a fast ball that hung over the plate which he was glad to hit out and followed that it was a great to see other pitches after practicing against the Razorbacks’ pitching’s “nasty cutters.”
Trey Killian continued his freshman firsts today with the press conference itself. “I was extremely nervous. I was jittery the whole game… Coming in in front of all those fans, it was unreal… I was just happy to have a good outing as a Razorback, especially at home.”
Officially for the cold day, 4,734 fans watched the Razorbacks take their first step to Omaha on 7,712 tickets sold.